Foreign Service Careers & Personality Types

For steady employment with excellent benefits, you can't beat the U.S. Government, and if you like to travel and relish the idea of making a positive difference in the lives of Americans and people in foreign countries, you might consider foreign service. Opportunities for foreign service careers are available in the Department of State, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Foreign Commercial Service. Careers in foreign service require dedication to public service, willingness to endure hardship, and a personality that embraces challenges. However, the rewards can be great.

Career Opportunities

The U.S. Department of State is rich in career opportunities. Two kinds of foreign service careers are available: Foreign Service Officer and Foreign Service Specialist. Foreign Service Officers begin their work in one of five career tracks. Consular officers protect Americans overseas and work to strengthen U.S. borders. Economic Officers lend support to American businesses in foreign countries. Management Officers run American Embassies. Political Officers investigate political situations, and Public Diplomacy Officers elucidate U.S. policy abroad. Foreign Service Specialists supply expertise in additional areas, such as medicine, management, and information technology. The Foreign Agricultural Service hires Foreign Service Officers who work as management analysts, international and agricultural economists, and marketing and international trade specialists. These officers implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture's programs abroad, and also help developing nations cultivate in-country expertise for agricultural growth. USAID needs Foreign Service Officers who can develop and implement assistance programs that help other countries with their economies, education, environment, political stability, and public health. These officers work with the governments of foreign countries to analyze the countries' needs, develop strategies, and implement plans for assistance. The Foreign Commercial Service< needs Foreign Officers, called Commercial Officers, who are trade professionals. Their mission is to develop economic prosperity, advocate policies of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and to promote the export of American goods and services. They also work to protect and defend American interests overseas.

Hiring Requirements

To become a Foreign Service Officer for the Department of State, the Foreign Agricultural Service, USAID, or the Foreign Commercial Service, you must be a U.S. citizen who is at least 20 years old and no older than 59. You must hold a Bachelor's Degree at minimum, and you must be willing and able to accept assignments worldwide. In addition, you’ll need a medical clearance and must also undergo a comprehensive background check in order to qualify for a Top Security Clearance. To become a Foreign Service Officer with the Foreign Agricultural Service, you must have worked at least 18 months as a Foreign Agricultural Service Civil Service employee. From civil service, you can laterally transfer into foreign service if you pass the written and oral examinations, then pass security and medical clearances. You must be fluent in at least one foreign language. To become a Foreign Officer for USAID, you'll need to watch for job vacancies online. When a vacancy comes up, go ahead and complete the online application. Your application must pass a screening process to ensure that you meet the qualifications for that particular job. Applicants who are best qualified receive an invitation to go to Washington for an in-person assessment. Candidates must qualify for both the security clearance and medical clearance. To become a Commercial Officer, you must have either three years of experience as a Foreign Service Officer with another agency, or two years of experience as a Foreign Service Officer with another agency plus a Master's Degree. You can be tenure-tracked into Commercial Service by passing an online examination for oral and written skills. If you pass the online screening, you'll undergo on-site assessment. The most qualified candidates are placed on the Rank Order Register, a list which is valid for two years. The list is used to offer employment to candidates as jobs open up.

Personality Types

Which types are best suited for careers in foreign service? Candidates must possess a wide range of skill sets, attributes, and abilities. A wide breadth of knowledge about U.S. history, government, culture, and economy is essential. Foreign Service Officers must be dependable, resourceful, and composed in stressful situations. They must be good leaders and possess cultural adaptability and sensitivity. With so many options in diverse fields of management, administration, and professional specialities, foreign service offers opportunities suited to almost any personality type. However, types who combine an aptitude for business and management with a zest for new ideas and novel environments are especially well suited for foreign service. A few examples:

  • ENTJs excel at leadership, planning, and hard work. They're natural strategic thinkers and planners, and one of their greatest strengths is their management skills. Management and business consulting are likely areas to take advantage of the natural strengths of ENTJs, and many ENTJs would relish the challenge of applying their skills in a novel environment.
  • INTJs rely on analysis and reasoning as the most important parts of their problem-solving toolboxes. They are systems-oriented people who enjoy turning complex ideas into reality. Foreign service careers which require working with complex data to analyze problems, such as policy analysis, information technology, or business strategy, would be a good fit for the INTJ.
  • ENTPs combine an interest in management with an innate flexibility that makes them well suited for a position that may require they relocate for new assignments all over the world. They thrive on change and chafe under routine. ENTPs are also ingenious problem-solvers who relish intellectual challenges and don’t mind unpredictable or unfamiliar environments.
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